HC Deb 26 April 1948 vol 450 cc31-3
Major Beamish

I wish, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, to raise a question which has had some publicity in the newspapers over the weekend, and in so doing I would like to apologise because I have given you so little warning of this matter, for reasons beyond my control. I apologise, also, for having been unable to warn the hon. Members concerned, in view of the fact that there are 57 of them.

This is a question concerned with a news service known as the Democratic and General News Service, incorporating the General News Service, whose offices are at 7A, Fitzroy Square, London, W.1, and of which the proprietor is Mr. Eric Cook. This news agency, I understand, does not normally serve the British Press, but specialises in serving the European and Empire Press. It is a news agency which distributes information throughout the world by cable, air mail and ocean mail. Copies of its productions are, apparently, mailed to members of the editorial board in this country.

The editorial board—I read from their publication of 19th December—consists of the following: Mrs. Braddock, M.P., member of the Labour Party National Executive; Mr. H. Lester Hutchinson, M.P.; Mr. John Platts-Mills, M.P.; Mr. Julius Silverman, M.P.; Captain Stephen Swingler, M.P.; and Mr. H. Gordon Schaffer. I am only concerned that, for the second time in a week, allegations have been made that hon. Members' signatures have been forged, or obtained in some way under false pretences, or, putting it in the best light, used for subversive purposes without the knowledge of the persons concerned. I have here 57 facsimile signa- tures of hon. Members of this House, of whom 55 are Socialists and two are Communists. These facsimile signatures follow a short covering letter recommending this news service.

I submit, with great respect, Sir, that this case, following as it has on what I may call the case of the Nenni telegram last week, is one of great gravity, which must cause all of us in this House, of all parties—and for that matter the whole country—deep concern. I submit, therefore, that these facts constitute a breach of privilege.

Mr. Bowles

Before you give your Ruling, Sir, may I put this point to you for your consideration? Surely, if no Member who has been mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) has made any complaint to you or to the House that his name has been forged, it is not a matter which concerns the House.

Mr. Speaker

I confess that I have not had very long notice of this matter, although I appreciate the reasons why it came to me at such short notice. The fact is, however, that this is like the case the other day—an issue between a gentleman who is, I think, called Mr. Cook and a certain number of Members of Parliament. It is not a reflection on Parliament as a whole, and it is not really a matter which affects Privilege. It is a matter between some individual Members who, apparently, have had their signatures put down by mistake, or wrongly, and a gentleman called Mr. Cook. I cannot rule that there is a prima facie case of Privilege, although I confess that when names of Members are put down recklessly by all kinds of papers, on all kinds of occasions, it is a serious matter. It is not, however, a matter of Privilege, and the remedy lies between each of the hon. Members and the paper concerned.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), is there not this great difference, Sir, between the case of last week and the case which has been put by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) today, in that last week it was definitely stated by some Members that their names had been used without their authority, while in this case, so far as we are informed, no Member has made any such complaint?

Mr. Speaker

If I had ruled that there was a prima facie case there might have been something in the complaint, but I have not done so; I have left the case as it is.

Major Beamish

May I point out, Sir, that nine Members of this House, including a Minister of the Crown, have denied that they signed this document?

Mr. Speaker

That, I should have thought, is a matter between them and Mr. Cook.